Let’s acknowledge and celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with 5 composers you should know if you don’t already.  

Bright Sheng

The first is Chinese American composer Bright Sheng, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, whose music has been played the world over, especially his works for orchestra. His work Zodiac Tales is a concerto for orchestra that brings the vivid legends of astrological animals to life. It also contains one of the most involved and challenging tuba parts I have played in an orchestra, and the first time I played it there wasn’t even a recording yet, and it was exciting to hear it for the first time while actually playing it.  

Learn more about Bright Sheng here. 

Viet Cuong

Viet Cuong is a composer that will be familiar to Front Row Washington listeners. He is a Vietnamese-American composer who has been praised as “alluring” by the New York Times, and his work titled Sanctuary is particularly alluring. It's written for soprano saxophone and piano and while I couldn’t find any program notes, the title gives us an idea of the sentiment. I love how while we have all of these moving lines and gestures, there is a rhythmic cycle with pedal points in the piano left hand that anchors us.  

Learn more about Viet Cuong here.

Chen Yi

Another composer you might know from Front Row Washington is Chen Yi, a Chinese-American composer and violinist. Her music is known for combining elements of Chinese and Western music, and also cross cultural traditions. Her violin concerto Spring in Dresden (commissioned for the New York Philharmonic and Dresden Staatskapelle) commemorates the reconstruction of a church in Dresden that was rebuilt 60 years after its destruction.  

Learn more about Chen Yi here.


Leiluhua Lanzilotti is a Kanaka Maoli composer who has been praised by the New York Times as a “leading composer-performer" and from her website is described as: Lanzilotti’s work is characterized by expansive explorations of timbre. Lanzilotti’s practice explores radical indigenous contemporaneity, integrating community engagement into the heart of projects. 

One work that explores the timbre of the viola and voice is her work titled ko’u inoa 

From program notes written by Dr. Michael-Thomas Foumai:  

Described as "a homesick bariolage based on the anthem Hawaiʻi Aloha, koʻu inoa exists in several forms...koʻu inoa translates from ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to "my name is" and frames a perspective and statement to absorb the meaning of identity. Melody is the most substantial element to impart musical distinction and identity. A succession of pitches is the equivalent of letters to a name. Even when the rhythm is altered, the original melody lingers and is recognizable. This connection between pitch, melody, time, and personal identity is one of many metaphors at the heart of this music. 

Learn more about Leiluhua Lanzilotti here. 


The last composer we take a look at is Juri Seo, who you might also know from Front Row Washington. She is a Korean-American composer whose music “encompasses extreme contrast through compositions that are unified and fluid, yet complex” and she also has unorthodox structures in her music. One piece that particularly grabbed me was this work titled Respiri, which was written in memoriam for Jonathan Harvey. Seo wrote:  

The composer Jonathan Harvey was an extraordinarily kind person. I emailed with him regularly while writing my doctoral dissertation on his four string quartets. Toward the end of our correspondence, I discovered that he was suffering from a motor neuron disease that was gradually paralyzing him; he had been spending a part of his precious final year responding to questions from a person he did not know. The disease eventually ended his life in December 2012. Although we never met in person, his work and philosophy had an immense influence on the way I think about music. 

Learn more about Juri Seo here.

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